When the Obama administration announced Thursday a 25-point plan to transform the way the federal government manages its information technology, it did so with an eye to the long term. However, on a number of key fronts, the Office of Management and Budget is directing the execution of a number of near-term action items within the next few months.
Some of those short-term plans grow out of work already being done under the banner of IT consolidation, including data center consolidation and cloud computing. The federal government is in the midst of a government-wide data center consolidation effort -- the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative -- and is beginning a more directed push toward cloud computing as part of the 2012 budget cycle.
The Office of Management and Budget has instructed each agency to designate, within the next six months, a dedicated senior data center consolidation program manager to lead the agency's data center consolidation initiative and develop a more detailed plan with verifiable milestones to reach agency data center reduction targets. In addition, the Federal CIO Council will launch a Data Center Consolidation Task Force that begin meeting monthly to review progress agency-by-agency and work to "ensure government-wide alignment between agency efforts."
In terms of cloud computing, OMB announced that, after more than an 18-month wait, the General Services Agency will finally make a common set of contract vehicles for infrastructure-as-a-service available within the next six months after completing security certification. Blanket purchase agreements were awarded in late October to several companies that will deliver services from Microsoft, Amazon, and others.
More broadly, OMB said that it will work with Congress to develop a more flexible funding model for "commodity" IT services like email, data center spending, content management systems, and Web infrastructure that will apply to inter-- and intra-agency services to help consolidate these systems into shared services.
IT program management -- one of the top priorities for federal CIO Vivek Kundra in recent months -- will also see some changes in the near future. The Office of Personnel Management will create a career path for IT program managers that will help formalize federal IT program management capabilities, and the Federal CIO Council will foster IT program manager expertise with a new online portal to share best practices. OMB will also issue guidance requiring each major IT project to have an integrated IT program team that includes IT, business acquisition, and finance pros.
In terms of program oversight, OMB will by March stand up a version of the TechStat statistics-based management sessions at each agency, led by agency CIOs. Mandated official budget planning and justification documents -- Exhibits 53 and 300 -- will also see long overdue overhauls to transform them from underused paperwork into "authoritative management tools."
IT acquisition has long been a sticky subject for the federal government. Kundra has recently raised concerns that the acquisition workforce is understaffed and highly risk-averse. In addition to launching a campaign to counter "myths" about restrictions on the acquisition workforce's ability to work with industry, the administration plans within six months to issue guidance on requirements for IT acquisition specialist training and will launch an online, interactive platform to "effectively tap the understanding of industry partners."
Finally, OMB will take steps over the next few months to push new ways about thinking about IT budgeting. The traditional annual budgeting process is increasingly a thorn in the side of IT in an era of fast-paced changes that might see an entire generation of technology pass between the time a budget is proposed and spending finally begins to filter out. OMB plans to work closely with agencies and Congress over the next few months to determine how flexible "working capital funds" and other non-traditional types of government budgeting and spending could increase IT funding flexibility.